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Q&A: Taking positive action over negativity

Peter Done

Q: I have an employee who is constantly negative, which has a detrimental impact on team morale. Their work is not a problem, so I cannot discipline him. I have always considered myself to be a good employer, so I am unsure where the problem lies.

A: It is important for employers to acknowledge they have a duty of care to all staff. A negative employee may begin to spread a feeling of discontent throughout the rest of your employees. Therefore, it is vital that such behaviour does not go unchecked by the employer, because this employee is clearly giving your other staff something to complain about. Having a process to deal with employee relations and behaviour is pivotal for the success and best interests of the whole business.

You need to have a word with the employee to discuss matters. Most employee issues like this can be resolved with a simple informal conversation. Negativity can stem from a lack of communication between employer and employees – if employees do not feel that their opinions are sought or acknowledged they can begin to lose enthusiasm, quite often leading to resentment and negativity. If you give the employee an opportunity to speak to you, even just in the form of a casual conversation, he is more likely to feel listened to and involved.

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In the first instance, there is no need for any formal action, so while you should make time and arrangements for a conversation to take place in a private area, your meeting will be informal. It should not take the form of a disciplinary hearing. At this stage, you are simply trying to find out what is bothering the employee. Also, do not assume that the employee does not have any valid points as the basis of his negativity. He may well have good cause for moaning about particular events at work, or the way that he has been treated, so you must keep an open mind. Take notes if you need to.

After speaking to the employee, decide if there is anything you need to do. If valid points have been made, you should look to resolve these issues. If you do not feel that there is any substance to the employee’s general moans, you should make it clear to him that his behaviour is affecting the other members of staff and that you are not prepared to accept further instances.

You should use this episode to review the channels of communication between you and your staff. If employees do not feel that they have any method by which to raise concerns and be listened to, their problems are likely to fester, which can lead to a lack of drive and motivation.

Peter Done is managing director of law firm Peninsula